Promises Are Meant To Be Broken Essay Contest

Do you think before you make a promise to someone? What if you can’t deliver on your word? Does it really matter? The world isn’t going to come to an end, is it? Well, actually no, but have you considered . . .

Many people are pretty casual about making promises. As a result, promises are frequently made at the drop of a hat with no real intention of keeping them. “Let’s do lunch,” “I’ll call you later,” and “I’ll be there in five minutes” are all examples of throwaway promises that are frequently made but seldom kept. However, this casual attitude can have real consequences.

When you break a promise, no matter how small it may seem to you, alarm bells aren’t going to go off, but it can damage a relationship or your reputation. Think about it — when someone else breaks a promise to you, or gets caught in a lie, doesn’t that make you feel violated or cheated?  You can’t help wondering whether you were wrong to ever trust that person.

Getting away with a lie can also be dangerous because it fools liars into believing they’re invincible and that they have little chance of getting caught. Before you know it, lying can become a habit, forcing liars to spend precious time and energy keeping their stories straight. Once others learn about the lies, some people may forgive, but they surely won’t forget.

Promise to Tell the Whole Truth

A promise is a promise. Some folks apply a rating scale, believing that breaking a big promise is inexcusable, while a small one is acceptable. That’s simply false. While breaking a big promise, such as failing to repay borrowed money, can torpedo a relationship, reneging on promises, such as being on time, casts doubt on future behavior.

Remember, trust is built through a series of experiences shared with others. When behavior is consistent, faith in the relationship develops. When promises are broken or people are misled, the bonds of trust are breached.

Broken promises imply that the offenders either didn’t think before making the promises, or don’t care that they’ve let you down. They’re also implying that their needs are more important than yours. So, be careful about the promises that you make and with whom you make them.

Never promise the moon. If you can’t keep a promise, don’t make it. For example, you may not be able to guarantee someone a five percent investment return, but you can show them your track record and promise them that you’ll work hard on their behalf; you can’t guarantee that you’ll arrive in two hours, but you can promise that you’re going to leave at 10am; you can’t promise anyone sunny weather, but you can promise to hold the umbrella open for them if it rains.

Some broken promises are excusable. If you can’t deliver something on time because of an uncontrollable event, such as a family illness, most people will understand that the lapse was unintentional. On the other hand, breaking a promise intentionally (oversleeping) is different — you’ll have to face the consequences.

When you distort the truth by exaggerating, spinning the truth, or withholding key facts, you also weaken your credibility for the future.

Half the truth is often a whole lie. Lying comes in many forms. Some people exaggerate or stretch the truth to make something look more attractive. Others “spin the truth” by presenting “selected” facts that support their position. Withholding key facts is also lying — it’s clearly meant to deceive. When you tell a lie, everything that you say in the future may be treated as suspect. As Friedrich Nietzsche said, “I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.”

When people are dishonest, they send the message that they lied because either they don’t have a strong case or they have something to hide. Once they’re caught in the act, liars will find that others may start requesting everything in writing, may start looking over their shoulder, and may question their motives. Most importantly, after they lie, everything said from that point forward won’t carry the same credibility.

You’re judged by the company you keep. When people cover for the misdeeds of others, they’re as guilty as those who committed the “crimes.” If you’re tempted to cover for someone else, first consider whether it’s worthwhile to put your own reputation on the line for anyone who’s undeserving of your good name.

Your Word Is Your Bond

There was a time when keeping your word held special significance. We took great pride in being of good character. Personal integrity was both expected and valued. That was a time when everyone knew each other’s family, and you wouldn’t do anything that would cast a shadow on your family’s good name. It was a time when integrity was instilled in children at a very early age and was viewed as instrumental in achieving success. The truth is, our world may have changed, but the importance of integrity has not. While we may not know everyone in our own town, the world is still smaller than you think. Create some bad news and you’ll learn this for yourself.

Every time you give your word, you’re putting your honor on the line. You’re implying that others can place their trust in you because you value integrity and would never let them down. It goes without saying that if you don’t live up to your word, you may end up tarnishing your credibility, damaging your relationships, and defaming your reputation. Most importantly, you’ll be letting yourself down.

But . . . when you operate with complete integrity, what you say will be taken at face value, your intentions will be assumed honorable, and your handshake will be as good as a contract. Most importantly, you can take great pride in the standards that you’ve set for yourself and sleep well at night knowing that your conscience is clear. As for others . . . just when they think they’re fooling the world, they’ll realize that they’re only fooling themselves. A promise is a promise after all.

What do you think? Are people too casual about making promises?

Additional Reading:
Reputation: You Can’t Run From Your Shadow
The Values on Which Trust Rests
May I Have a Word with You

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Posted on Filed Under: Blog, Self-help, Trust and Integrity Image licensed from Shutterstock

Acouple weeks ago Mayor Daley took his Olympics dog-and-pony show to the Walt Disney Magnet School on the north side, far from the south-side neighborhood parks that will be overtaken if his plans for the 2016 games go through.

As PR spectacles go, it was pretty impressive. The stage was filled with Olympic stars. The auditorium was packed with kids hopped-up to be out of class and eager to cheer on cue for the TV cameras.

The event's ostensible purpose was to unveil the city's new Olympic logo. But its larger goal was to send the message that Chicagoans, like Disney's giddy students, are jazzed up about bringing the games to town.

Of course, the public's attitude toward the games is a lot more complicated. If you walk through Washington Park on a Sunday afternoon and ask the softball and tennis players and joggers and sunbathers what they think about the games, you'll get a chorus of jeers. As they see it, just about the only thing the games will do is turn their park into a construction zone.

Over at Jackson Park, the proposed site of a 20,000-seat field hockey arena, opinion's a bit more split, as some opponents try to figure out how to deal with an all-powerful mayor with a short temper and a long memory.

Stretching along the south lakefront, with Stony Island to the west, the Museum of Science and Industry to the north, and 67th Street to the south, Jackson Park, site of the 1893 World's Columbian Exhibition, is one of the city's most storied natural splendors. Designed by the 19th-century landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, it contains more than 600 acres of open land, including an oak savanna, a Japanese garden, and a wooded island in the middle of one of its two lagoons. To cross the bridge and walk through the island is to leave the city--you can't even hear the traffic from Lake Shore Drive.

The open field just west of the drive is used by dozens of youth soccer teams and some local high schools as a practice football field. It sits next to a driving range popular with local golfers, many of whom are biding their time before teeing off at the park's 18-hole course.

True, the playing fields could use some fixing up, though they're not as bad as some of the moonscapes that pass for soccer fields in other Chicago parks. But overall, Jackson Park's one of the few Park District benefits south-siders get for paying taxes, and if the city's not going to make necessary improvements, everyone would probably be better off if it were left alone.

But Daley got it in his head that Chicago had to have the Olympics in 2016. And his planners assured him that the best way to win the nod from the International Olympic Committee over competing cities like Rio de Janeiro and Madrid was to keep all the venues relatively close together and put them on public land so the city wouldn't have to deal with the headache of taking over property through eminent domain. Realizing that there would be holy hell to pay if he tried to plow over Grant Park or Lincoln Park, Daley earmarked the south side, dressing it up as a gift to the community.

In the case of Jackson Park, residents aren't sure it's a gift they really want. How can the city bring in so many spectators without paving over parkland for parking? How can they build and tear down a 20,000-seat arena without closing down the park for at least a couple of years? And what about fencing off and tearing up valuable parkland--scaring birds, trampling grass, disrupting tranquillity, and evicting soccer and football players--just to host a three-week party? What does Jackson Park get out of the deal?

Not enough, the Jackson Park Advisory Council concluded. In August it passed a resolution opposing the games. "We said the plans were ill conceived and that we didn't support them," says Ross Petersen, vice president of the council. (The former president, Nancy Hays, died in May.)

The council's opposition drew the attention of the city's Olympic committee, Chicago 2016, which depends on the enthusiasm of the city's residents. If it comes out that a significant number of south-side residents oppose the games, the IOC would be less inclined to give Chicago the nod. Given all the logistical and financial problems of staging an Olympics, the last thing any candidate city needs is local opposition.

So the Olympic committee did what they hadn't done before: they reached out to the advisory group and asked for an opportunity to make their case. On September 10 they brought in some of their heavy hitters, like former planning department commissioner Valerie Jarrett and new planning department commissioner Arnold Randall. And they assured about 50 residents that there would be no long-term damage to the oak savanna or the island or the Japanese garden. There would be no parking lots built--spectators, players, reporters, and coaches would be brought in for the games by bus. From start to finish, construction would last no more than ten months--the temporary stadium would be moved from the park as soon as the games were over. Other south-side park sites would be found for the soccer and football players who lost their field. And as a lasting legacy, the park would gain two synthetic-turf fields.

Now the advisory council has to decide whether to trust the city to make good on these promises. Not that they have much choice: if Chicago gets the nod it will be virtually impossible to stop it from doing whatever it wants. But given the city's track record when it comes to large public projects, it's exceedingly unlikely that the stadium will be built and dismantled in a timely fashion without cost overruns. The financing of the games is already iffy. Who knows if there'll be any money remaining to restore the parks once the games are over?

On the other hand, the community could use a couple of nice new playing fields--even if they are a decade off. "I spend a week in the new season filling in holes on that field. This will leave us with a field that is not so dangerous to our children," says Louise McCurry, another member of the Jackson Park Advisory Council. "I feel it's going to be a very good thing. It would be a nice thing for children to play on a field where the Olympics were held."

McCurry says she trusts the city to fulfill its promises, noting that Randall, a Hyde Park resident, coaches a team that plays in a Jackson Park youth soccer league. "The head of the city's planning department is one of our coaches," says McCurry. "I think we'll be taken care of."

But can't the city just build two soccer fields--which will cost about $2 million--without the folly and expense of the Olympics? "I don't know the answer to that," McCurry says. "There are always pros and cons to anything. It would be inconvenient for a year but we can work around it."

Still, the majority of the advisory council remains unwilling to endorse the plan, though members are guarded. The last thing they want to do is antagonize Daley, who in the recent flap over moving the Chicago Children's Museum to Grant Park showed that he gets mighty angry when locals oppose his plans. "We have opened a dialogue and that's an important first step," says Petersen.

Some council members tell me they hope the IOC will do the dirty work for them. If the IOC awards the games to some other city, then Jackson Park's users will get the best of both worlds. They won't have to deal with the Olympics, and Daley will have someone else to blame.

For more on politics, see our blog Clout City at

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration by Mike Werner.

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